What's prompting today's reflection is a few things. Tomorrow is Tisha B'Av, one of the most solemn days on the Hebrew calendar, and Wednesday, July 25, is the six-month anniversary of my Mom's death going by the Gregorian calendar. (On the Hebrew calendar, the six-month mark was 6 Av, which fell on this past Saturday.) Tisha B'Av itself marks the culmination of a period of national mourning, during which religious Jews tend to avoid scheduling weddings and other celebrations. After Tuesday, though, the restrictions will be over, and so a lot of celebrations will once again be taking place. Because of this, I've been thinking a lot about how someone in my current status under Jewish law is not supposed to attend parties.
To explain: during the year of mourning following a parent's death, there are certain restrictions one is supposed to place on one's activities. For example, one isn't supposed to attend live music performances. What I discovered right after Mom's death was that I wasn't in the mood to attend live music performances, and I'm still not; Mom's death seems to have had that effect on me.
And as I noted above, another thing one isn't supposed to do is attend parties or simchas (celebrations). However, there is a loophole, which is that if one is given a task or job to do for the celebration, then one is technically working the celebration and not attending solely to celebrate. (Also, if one's actual living comes out of attending parties, say as a party planner or a musician, one is allowed to attend.)
So, as in any year, I find myself invited to a variety of parties, and because of my status I've been dealing with them on a case-by-case basis. What I've tried to do this past year is strike a balance. Next week a woman I've known for a long time is celebrating her marriage with a party, and I was invited to attend. This is a simcha I dearly wish to be present at, so I made arrangements to be given a task to perform during the party. I also did something similar a while back to attend the engagement party for another friend. At the same time, however, I've tended to avoid parties that were unconnected to a specific celebration that meant something for a person.
Basically, if it's a life cycle event for someone I've known for a long time, I'm trying to find a task that allows me to attend; but if it's a casual party, and defined as such, I'm much more uncomfortable attending. And even in the first case, when I've been there, I've found myself feeling more out-of-place than usual. I actually left one party early because of my discomfort, even though I could justify my presence for a few reasons.
Is what I'm doing perfect? Probably not, but it's the best I can manage for the moment.